Clive James: writer, poet and broadcaster 1939-2019

A tribute to Clive James.

It is with great sadness that Picador has learned of the death of Clive James, peacefully at home on Sunday 24th November after a long illness.

Clive James has been a Picador author for forty years and is the longest continuously published author on the list, with some forty titles in all.

The first Picador James title was Unreliable Memoirs; it was an immediate bestseller and went on to sell over a million copies. We have continued to publish James ever since.

Clive James was ‘a brilliant bunch of guys' as the New Yorker said: critic, essayist, star of television and radio, memoirist, novelist and – especially in his final decade – poet.

Poetry was the art form that mattered most to James. During his final decade, he published several bestselling books of verse, including Sentenced to Life and his translation of Dante's The Divine Comedy, both of which were critically acclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic.

Picador published his most recent book, Somewhere Becoming Rain: Collected Writings on Philip Larkin, in September. It is the record of a lifetime's appreciation of Larkin's poetry and prose.

Shortly before his death he completed work on The Fire of Joy: Roughly 80 Poems to Get by Heart and Say Aloud. This final book, scheduled for publication in the autumn of 2020, a paean to English poets and poetry, from Chaucer to the present day, specifically celebrates what James considered true poetry: those words that get into your head no matter.

Don Paterson, Picador Poetry Editor, said:

“While James had always written poetry, it became his principal focus in his last decade; this unexpected late blossoming produced book after book of effortlessly-turned, moving and memorable verse, which saw several of his poems – among them the celebrated ‘Japanese Maple' – shared around the world. It was however typical of James's immense generosity that the last book he'd finish – The Fire of Joy, a reader's guide to his favourite poems from the English canon – was a work of pure enthusiasm. James was always prized for his superhuman learning (he really had read all those books) and one of the greatest turns of phrase in contemporary English; but he also possessed the rarest and most valuable skill we find in the critic: the language of praise. Any encounter with James, either in print or in person, left you desperate to go and open a book, watch a film or a TV show, or hunt down a recording. With Clive's passing we lose the wisest and funniest of writers, a loyal and kind friend, and the most finely-stocked mind we will ever have the fortune to encounter.''

Clive James was born in Sydney, Australia in 1939 and was educated at the University of Sydney and Pembroke College, Cambridge.

He first shot to fame in the early 1970s as the Observer's television critic and for ten years his weekly column was one of the most famous regular features in Fleet Street journalism, setting a style which was enormously popular and widely copied.

He then became an eminent television performer and presenter himself and appeared regularly on both the BBC and ITV, most notably as writer and presenter of the famous Postcard series of travel documentaries and as the host of a number of chat shows.

As well as verse and novels, he has published numerous collections of essays, literary and television criticism, travel writing and four five volumes of memoir: Unreliable MemoirsFalling Towards EnglandMay Week Was in JuneNorth Face of Soho and The Blaze of Obscurity.

In 1992 he was made a Member of the Order of Australia and in 2003 he was awarded the Philip Hodgins memorial medal for literature. He holds honorary doctorates from Sydney University and the University of East Anglia. In 2012 he was appointed CBE and in 2013 an Officer of the Order of Australia.

Jacqui Graham, his publicist throughout his time at Picador, says:

‘Clive was the consummate professional. He never, ever let his publisher, his publicist or his public down. Even when terminally ill, he still “turned a phrase until it caught the light”. He was never late to an interview or an event, he never turned in less than a stellar performance, he was unfailingly courteous – and always, always so clever and so funny.'